In World of Speed, Winning Isn't Everything
When I get behind the wheel in a racing game, I have one goal: to win. Being the first to cross the finish line is the only goal, and whether I race clean or get dirty isn't relevant. What matters is that my competitors remain behind me.
How unusual, then, that I won a team race when playing World of Speed recently, even though I wasn't the first to cross the finish line. You see, developer Slightly Mad's upcoming online racing game doesn't think that winning always means coming in first. As I sped through the streets of San Francisco with an ally and two challengers, it became obvious that finishing the race in first place wasn't an option; the driver leading the pack was too far ahead of me. And so I relaxed my attitude and enjoyed the sights of my home city, unaware that I would somehow eke out a win, even though I was second to finish.
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How is such a thing possible? Luckily, Pete Morrish, Lead Producer at developer Slightly Mad, and Andy Tudor, Creative Director, had answers for me. "What we wanted to do was to make racing more than just about winning," Tudor told me. "In every other racing game under the sun, it's all about crossing the line in first position. In an online race, that means that the vast majority of players aren't coming away with that special 'win!' feeling. Add to that the fact that there's precious little incentive to carry on if you find yourself in a position where you can't win the race, and it's looking like the racing genre could do with a sprinkling of magic innovation dust."
I am not sure if World of Speed's system is magic, but it's certainly unusual. As you race, you earn points by accomplishing objectives like slipstreaming opponents for a certain amount of time, or trading paint with other racers. Says Tudor, "Objectives bring a layer of strategy to racing by giving players more to think about and to do. They encourage teams to actually work together in a way that's not been seen in racing before." When I took to the San Francisco streets a second time, I was more conscious of these secondary objectives--so of course I lost the race, much to my chagrin.
Nevertheless, I had fun, though it was clear that the vehicle handling needed some tweaking. My Camaro felt heavier than expected, and the developers on hand assured me they also felt that the model was still too weighty for their tastes. I was fine once I grew accustomed to the vehicle's feel--which didn't take that long--but I was missing the arcade fluidity of the racing game I've been most enamored with of late: Need for Speed: Rivals. To be fair, however, World of Speed is not aiming for a wholly arcade driving experience. "As with any other game type or genre, you want easy accessibility yet long-term depth," says Morrish. "So you want players to be able to jump in and have a blast even without prior racing experience yet at endgame and competition level you want a depth of skill that only true masters will achieve. So we're focused on the game being instantly fun when you pick it up and do cool slides around corners whilst also providing an underlying physics and handling system that allows for nuance and prowess to be shown long-term. We label this on the spectrum as action racing."
World of Speed is not just about one-off races, however, but about connecting with other players in a large open world. Racing games have dabbled with massively multiplayer elements for many years (the first I ever played was Motor City Online, all the way back in 2001), but Slightly Mad calls its game a straight-up MMOG. Morrish says that the term is applicable, in part because there will be massive numbers of racers playing the game online and queuing up for races. "Our social zone will be a hive of activity as new players jump in and out, players will be chatting to each other, the calendar events will be busy, and friends will be making clubs and fighting for glory in that world. So our vision is very firmly focused around the 'buzz' each time you log on to play."
Of course, what Morrish describes doesn't sound like an MMOG to me; it sounds like a traditional online game with a lobby. But Morrish calls out another element that he also believes makes World of Speed a massively multiplayer game. "The second [aspect] is maybe what people traditionally associate an MMO actually being--an RPG. So if you look at how we've approached race events in the game there are easy comparisons to, say, 'raids' in Warcraft. You have to work cooperatively as a team to win them, there are side quests to complete during them, each driver can take on a specific role, and you get experience and 'loot' for winning. These rewards can be money or buffs or points you can use to upgrade your cars and be more competitive in the next event. When you then include the Territory Wars aspect of a perpetual club-based struggle for world domination I think it's fair to say World Of Speed is pretty unique compared to the competition and has been built from the ground up to be more than just a racing game."
What's missing is what I believe to be the primary ingredient that makes a game an MMOG: a persistent world populated by large numbers of players at a single time. But this is all semantics, ultimately. Whatever we call it, World of Speed seems like it will be lovely to look at and fun to play. And those are two pretty good assets for a racing game to have.
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